The 2016-17 season for the Blue Jackets has given the team and fans a lot to be excited about. The Jackets (39-16-6) currently sit in the upper rankings of both the Metro Division and the League, and have had impressive outings from players throughout the lineup.
In advance of the trade deadline, general manager Jarmo Kekalainen sat down with BlueJackets.com to talk about the state of the Blue Jackets, the looming expansion draft this summer and how his team is evaluating each of these factors heading into the trade deadline.
Can you describe for us how you and your team are preparing for the deadline?
We're not really doing anything different than what we do every day; we just have this deadline. So if we want to accomplish anything for this spring, time is running out. Today at 3 p.m. it's done. We have the pro scouts in town because of (the deadline) but other than that this is what we do every day.
We think about "what if we do this or what if we do this," and "these are things we could do to get better." We do this every day. We watch our team every game and at practices to evaluate where we start from with our team. And we look at what might be available and how that would improve us, or would it improve us?
What are the strengths of this current group of Blue Jacket players and are there any areas where you might be looking to improve?
We're excited about the group because we're young, that's a big strength of the group. I think we can get better from within and we don't have a lot of players that we feel are declining. We have some veteran, experienced players but they are hard working guys. They're in good shape and they're strong and we believe that they can at least maintain where they are at right now.
We'll get better from just young guys improving.
Just look at our number one pair defensemen. Zach Werenski and Seth Jones are just 'babies' in this league even though Seth has played a few years already. But Zach is just 19 years old, Seth is 22, so you can very confidently expect to improve from within there.
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Same goes on the forward side. You look at Alexander Wennberg and Oliver Bjorkstrand now being on our first line. Both guys are young, and Josh Anderson is just a rookie in the league doing well. There are lots of different examples of guys that can keep getting better.
Our hardest working player is Sergei Bobrovsky and he's not old and he's going to keep improving just because he works so hard at it.
There's a lot of excitement about how we should be able to improve from within. But we're always looking at ways to get better from the outside too if it fits into our long-term plan.
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With "build from within" being the Jackets' strategy, how do you weigh trade options?
It has to make sense for us both for now to give us a better chance this spring, but also into the future. And the expansion draft is another variable that we don't normally have. This year, to add a player that you don't normally have means you're going to expose somebody in the expansion draft. If we're just adding a player that has a contract for next year, it adds to our list of players that we should protect.
If you're paying a big price for a player that has a contract for next year, and you want to protect him, that means that somebody else is going to be left unprotected. It's an added price to the trade, really. That's the way you have to look at it, if you have to give two pieces or three pieces for "player A" that has a contract for next year and beyond, it's not only those pieces but it's also the additional player that's being exposed. It's a bit of a concern.
Does the deadline add extra pressure for you and your team?
The older I get the more I learn that some things are out of your control. There's a deadline set by the league, it's tomorrow at 3 p.m. EST. You do your best until today at 3 o'clock and then it's done.
That doesn't add pressure, it just adds a timeline. You don't want to run out of time if something was there to be accomplished. Obviously when we get closer to (the deadline) and if we have something in the works that could add some pressure of getting it done because of the timeline. But other than that, we'll just do our best and that's all we can do.
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With the talent you described in the young players on this team, does a trade have to be on the table this year?
Our team has been good this year so far, there's no reason we can't be good down the stretch with this team. If we can make it better for the run in the springtime we will if it makes sense for the future also. I want to emphasize the fact that if it's a player that has a contract for next year, if it's not a rental, it adds to our protection problems and that has to be considered very thoroughly by us.
I'm not a big fan of paying a huge price for rentals at the stage where we're at with this team. Sometimes, it makes perfect sense for the teams that are doing it. If the window for your team is wide open and it's starting to close, (a rental) makes more sense.
I'm seeing our window is just starting to open. But because of the expansion draft the rental is probably a better option than it would be on a normal season. If this was the situation for us right now without the expansion draft, we'd probably look at more than long term solutions but because of the expansion draft the rental might make more sense.